Former West Orange High School Physics Teacher Receives Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Michael "Doc" Lawrence Credits: Cynthia Cumming

WEST ORANGE, NJ – Recently, retired West Orange High School Physics teacher Michael “Doc” Lawrence, was named a recipient of President Barack Obama’s Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching along with 107 other educators across the United States. The award came with a $10,000 prize. A panel of scientists, mathematicians and educators determined awardees following the initial selection process at the state level.

"These teachers are shaping America's success through their passion for math and science," President Obama said in the July 1 press release.

He added, "Their leadership and commitment empower our children to think critically and creatively about science, technology, engineering, and math. The work these teachers are doing in our classrooms today will help ensure that America stays on the cutting edge tomorrow."

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With a B.S. in mathematics from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, a M.A.T. in mathematics from the University of Florida, a M.S.T. in physics from Rutgers University, and an Ed.D. in science education from Rutgers University, Lawrence was a “beloved” Physics teacher at West Orange High School, teaching Honors and Advanced Placement Physics C to 11th and 12th graders for 40 years until his retirement in June 2014, according to a school representative.

“There are no words to convey how special my 40 years teaching physics at West Orange are to me,” said Lawrence.

“I am both honored and fortunate to have spent my entire career in the West Orange School District,” he said. “I have more deeply pleasant memories than any one person deserves. The classroom, in particular, was, to me, a sacred place (primarily because of the students); somewhere where I would experience pure being on a daily basis. The students made that happen ... they gave so much more to me that I could ever give back to them. I miss the daily interactions with students, both in terms of teaching and simply chatting about things they are involved in ... that's the hardest part of being retired.”

In addition to his work as an educator, Lawrence spent over 20 years in physics education research, serving as a co-director and expert lead teacher for the Rutgers Astrophysics Institute from 1998-2013; consultant for the Assessment of Scientific Abilities from 2003-2006; consultant for the Investigative Science Learning Environments from 2002-2005; and expert lead teacher for the Video Assessments in Science Teaching Institute from 1991-1996. 

Lawrence wrote and co-authored six published journal articles and presented his work at regional and state conferences as well as national meetings of the American Association of Physics Teachers. He has been recognized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton, and the College of New Jersey. Lawrence was one of 29 winners of the MIT Inspirational Teacher Award in 2013.

In speaking of the PAEMST award, Lawrence said, “It's extremely gratifying to receive recognition, especially recognition of this magnitude. It's also quite humbling, because whatever I did to win this award, I had a lot of help in doing.”

“The administration at West Orange High School, both principals (Jerry Tarnoff, Art Alloggiamento, Hayden Moore) and supervisors (Sandy Antoine, Alex Rosenwald, Steph Suriano) were always there for me, providing the support for what I was trying to implement in the classroom,” he said.

He also credited Rutgers Professors Eugenia Etkina (Science Education) and Terry Matilsky (Physics) for his growth as an educator, as well as his students at WOHS.


“I enjoyed year after year of wonderful, interesting, talented, and unique students who inspired me daily, and who I miss immensely as students, and more importantly, as people,” he said.

Lawrence added, “I'd like to take this opportunity to say that the town of West Orange is lucky to have the teachers that they do. The large majority of them don't get the pleasure of being recognized for their efforts, but make no mistake: they are all deserving of recognition for what they do. The West Orange HS faculty is simply outstanding.”

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